How a Russian Surf Photographer Became One of the Most Sought After in Bali

Matt George

by on

Updated 33d ago

Imagine being a stoked surfer and being 10,000 kilometers from your favourite waves. A one time Moscow interior design photographer named Jenya Ivkov knows the feeling well. On assignment to Bali in 2009 to photograph the interior of tropical villa’s, he took a surf lesson on Kuta Beach. He was hooked for life.

Ivkov knew then and there that the future of his photography would switch to the interior of Bali’s best waves. So back in freezing Moscow, Ivkov worked five long years to get back. He had always dabbled in sports photography, BMX, skateboarding, snowboarding, but since his visit to Bali he always dreamed of fisheye images of the expansive “blue barrels” he had seen from the cliff at Padang Padang.

Watch our live Padang Padang cam HERE

“Look at that horsetail lip. Beautiful. This is one of those last shots of the day. The sun just below the horizon, the wind abating, the clouds turning pink. Everybody, including the photographers, tired and stoked but just getting the last one in. That moment of a day when it becomes a memorable one. Like photographers, not all surfers become rich doing it, but we are both connected to each other by a rich life doing what we love.

“Look at that horsetail lip. Beautiful. This is one of those last shots of the day. The sun just below the horizon, the wind abating, the clouds turning pink. Everybody, including the photographers, tired and stoked but just getting the last one in. That moment of a day when it becomes a memorable one. Like photographers, not all surfers become rich doing it, but we are both connected to each other by a rich life doing what we love."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

In 2014, the challenge became a reality when he moved to the island to chase his dream. His learning curve astonished most, with his intimate water work and his sublime shots from land, he soon became one of the most sought after surf photographers in Bali. A master of the foreground, from shore Ivkov often manages to meld both Bali’s rich culture and Bali’s surf culture at once. Preferring to keep his photos on the darker spectrum is something he admits to saying is “very Russian”. Yet the results are unique and fresh in photo-saturated Bali.

“I am not interested in postcards,” he says “I am interested in the ambient drama of the moment and sometimes that takes manipulation of the image, like composing music with fanfare”.

Now splitting his time between his commercial work and the sea, just as he had once dreamed, Ivkov has found a warm home in the barrels of Bali.

“I really like landscapes with wave lines. Feels like me and the waves are both on a constant search for the best angle. Them from sea. Me from land. The drone technology has helped, but I find you still need to be sensitive and not just a spy. This is an example of that dark palette I like. I send mine up on overcast days mostly to get that ghostly look. Plus, this is my favourite wave field in the world. Look at all that fizzing oxygen. It’s like white lace”.

“I really like landscapes with wave lines. Feels like me and the waves are both on a constant search for the best angle. Them from sea. Me from land. The drone technology has helped, but I find you still need to be sensitive and not just a spy. This is an example of that dark palette I like. I send mine up on overcast days mostly to get that ghostly look. Plus, this is my favourite wave field in the world. Look at all that fizzing oxygen. It’s like white lace”.

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

In a cliff side Warung at Uluwatu, Jenya Ivkov and I had a chance to open his computer and discuss a few of his favourite shots from the incredible run of swell that has been bombarding the island.

“I like stylish surfers like Torren Martyn, Craig Anderson, Rob Machado, Mike February…but the Indonesian’s have a style all their own. They are so tuned into their waves it’s like a dance for them. Very graceful, very well positioned, poised. Connected to the wave through their boards like the boards of a stage. And at the Padang Padang Photo Studio, sometimes they just bring a sense of fun to it all.

“I like stylish surfers like Torren Martyn, Craig Anderson, Rob Machado, Mike February…but the Indonesian’s have a style all their own. They are so tuned into their waves it’s like a dance for them. Very graceful, very well positioned, poised. Connected to the wave through their boards like the boards of a stage. And at the Padang Padang Photo Studio, sometimes they just bring a sense of fun to it all."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“Photography will always be an art. Even if you are shooting sport. This is a surfer’s canvas. It deserves to be shown in emotional ways. I approach shooting as intelligently as I can and attach great importance to processing and colour scheme. Pay attention and you end up with art gallery work.

“Photography will always be an art. Even if you are shooting sport. This is a surfer’s canvas. It deserves to be shown in emotional ways. I approach shooting as intelligently as I can and attach great importance to processing and colour scheme. Pay attention and you end up with art gallery work."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“Another example of how a darker palette can add a very different drama to Uluwatu. This was shot just the other day. The sound that the bigger waves like this were making inspired my shooting. I could hear their power and wanted to capture how a surfer can survive that power using his own spirit as a guide.

“Another example of how a darker palette can add a very different drama to Uluwatu. This was shot just the other day. The sound that the bigger waves like this were making inspired my shooting. I could hear their power and wanted to capture how a surfer can survive that power using his own spirit as a guide."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“I shoot with a Canon 5d mark 4, 15mm fisheye, 16-35mm, 50mm 1.2, 70-200mm and 150-600mm. In the water it’s a Liquideye waterhousing. I think you owe it to great surfers to use great equipment. Just like they are. Then there is a trust between the both of you. And then you get shot like this with Mega Semadhi stalling and calm where most surfers would be screaming to just survive. In this shot, Mega reminds me of a hunter letting the lion get real close before raising his rifle. Taking that time to express your nerve.

“I shoot with a Canon 5d mark 4, 15mm fisheye, 16-35mm, 50mm 1.2, 70-200mm and 150-600mm. In the water it’s a Liquideye waterhousing. I think you owe it to great surfers to use great equipment. Just like they are. Then there is a trust between the both of you. And then you get shot like this with Mega Semadhi stalling and calm where most surfers would be screaming to just survive. In this shot, Mega reminds me of a hunter letting the lion get real close before raising his rifle. Taking that time to express your nerve."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“I think surf photography is moving more towards Art. Already no one will be surprised with high-quality pictures of huge pipes and surfers inside them. It’s our job to look away now and then. See what we are dealing with in the natural world. The orchestra of it all.

“I think surf photography is moving more towards Art. Already no one will be surprised with high-quality pictures of huge pipes and surfers inside them. It’s our job to look away now and then. See what we are dealing with in the natural world. The orchestra of it all."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“For me shots like this are primarily about creativity. It quickly became not interesting to me to simply photograph surfers like a reporter. Now I first come up with pictures in my head and then I try to bring them to life. To the level of the surfer’s life in that moment.

“For me shots like this are primarily about creativity. It quickly became not interesting to me to simply photograph surfers like a reporter. Now I first come up with pictures in my head and then I try to bring them to life. To the level of the surfer’s life in that moment."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov

“Photography will always be an art. Even if you are shooting sport. This is a surfer’s canvas. It deserves to be shown in emotional ways. I approach shooting as intelligently as I can and attach great importance to processing and colour scheme. Pay attention and you end up with art gallery work.

“Photography will always be an art. Even if you are shooting sport. This is a surfer’s canvas. It deserves to be shown in emotional ways. I approach shooting as intelligently as I can and attach great importance to processing and colour scheme. Pay attention and you end up with art gallery work."

© 2020 - Jenya Ivkov